Like the priests who took the first steps to lead Israel into the icy waters of the Jordan River (Joshua 3), young leaders today need to be apprenticed toward brave new leadership. When you take into account the huge youth population bulges in many nations coupled with geopolitical instability likely for decades to come, vanguard student ministry organizations and churches committed to introducing more kids to Jesus must start thinking more about strategic sustainability. Strategic sustainability implies health and growth even in the midst of unpredictability. To achieve this you must have a principle-driven leadership training framework.
At the center of any strategy to influence wide swaths of young people of any nation is to identify, train, and empower younger leaders. In this post I’m not writing to just any leader, I’m addressing those young leaders, organizations, and churches out there who dream about changing the next generation with the Gospel. As I look at young leaders in the Bible who stand out as models for us to follow today, Daniel rises to the top.
LEADERSHIP TRAINING MUST ADAPT, RE-EDUCATE, AND RE-TRAIN
Daniel provides a clear pathway for leaders to expand their influence more broadly. We can’t rely on cultural norms to provide an incubator for basic leadership understanding anymore. Churches and mission organizations must pioneer the way and in many ways re-educate and re-train their younger leaders who want to serve. We can’t make assumptions anymore. We must have much more than mere skills training. Instead, leadership training must involve a combination of education+training+apprenticeship. That will be the foundation of strategic sustainability for student ministry organizations in a world of fracturing cultural norms.
Daniel had four remarkable qualities that broadened his leadership: COMPREHENSIVE KNOWLEDGE, CHARACTER, COMPETENCE, and an ability to CONNECT people to God by using his spiritual gifts. These four qualities are the mark of catalytic leaders. Now lets look at each of them in context…
Leadership qualities like being humble, hopeful and vocal leave a lasting impact. Before you read any further, take one minute and think about 3-5 memories from your life that deeply shaped you to be who you are today. What were they? When did they happen?
This probably won’t surprise you, but recent adolescent research affirms:
Nearly everyone recalls adolescence more powerfully than any other stage of life (Age of Opportunity by Laurence Steinberg).
Why is that true about adolescence (ages 13-25 or so)? One of the reasons people have so many shaping memories from adolescence is that the brain’s last period of heightened malleability is during adolescence (Steinberg, 10). Because this is the last window of opportunity for the brain to be so radically shaped, we tend to remember things that we experienced from that stage of life. Here’s how you can make sure to leave a lasting impact in the lives of the students you are investing in…
“The best journeys in life are those that answer questions you never thought to ask.” ~ Richard Ridgeway
I was talking with my daughter about what it’s like in her high school classes this week and she shared a profound thought. She said, “There is a girl in my class who is so funny, she always asks questions that everybody else is thinking.” We laughed out loud at some of the examples she shared. Then as I thought more about it, it occurred to me that this is a profoundly important leadership quality. People are often thinking things that they may not be comfortable voicing out loud. It helps others when we are willing to ask those questions that everyone else is thinking.
The 4 phases of youth leadership training are simply: You watch me. You help me do it. You do it, I help you. You do it, I watch you.
Leadership training for youth ministry back in the days when I started youth work was pretty simple. I was a student at the University of Arizona and I wanted to help kids meet Jesus. But I had no idea what I was doing. I was available, I was somewhat teachable, and I was wanting a mentor.
The first “youth leadership training” I got was through a very short conversation with an older more experienced leader in our area. He said, “You see that high school over there, Ashley? It’s full of about 3,500 high school kids who need Jesus. Let’s go.”
The essence of youth leadership is just as simple today. To reach the students in your area it takes leaders who are: Teachable, Available, Humble, and willing to be Apprenticed.
As I think back to the way my leader Jim apprenticed me to start building relationships with kids and sharing Jesus with them, he basically did four things. And I believe this is the essence of how to train leaders to reach the next generation, which every generation must do.
Youth ministry requires lots of leaders. If you want your church or parachurch to reach an increasing number of young people in your city, then you will need more leaders to do it. Developing youth leadership is a top priority. This is true for a couple of reasons. First, trends in youth ministry show us that it takes more leaders to reach fewer kids today than in previous generations. I talk about some of the reasons why in my recent post, 5 Trends in Youth Ministry & How to Navigate a Perfect Storm. If we want to reach more kids, then we need more leaders. But how do you recruit, train, and empower new teams of leaders year after year?